The problem is the system of representative democracy. If this surprises you, I will explain how I came to this conclusion.
The title of the article refers to the United States, but representative democracy is intrinsically weak anywhere, even in the calmer, more stable countries.
I write about representative democracy because I believe in democracy. The only “improvement” that makes sense in authoritarian or authoritarian regimes is their demise.
The key problem in a representative democracy is that politicians have too much power. They have too much power to make decisions, to make laws, to appoint important judges, to sign treaties, etc.
Because they have too much power, it is only logical politicians in such an environment will fight hard, even viciously, to gain power; the system pushes them.
Mostly directly, but also indirectly, politicians in representative democracy decide everything. The only thing they do not decide is who will win the election, although they often manipulate the electoral system to win.
Another adverse effect of so much power in the hands of politicians is that special interest groups pour lots of money into politics. They do that to “have the ear” of the politicians on economic and non-economic issues.
If US politicians, and politicians elsewhere, have less power but the voters have more, democracy benefits.
One benefit is that bitter antagonism among the parties, which spills over to voters too, will disappear. This will happen because when voters have the power to be the final decision-makers on laws, treaties, the constitution, they focus more on the practical aspects of the issue and less on partisanship.
Another positive effect is that special interests will invest less money in politicians with less power. This is so because it makes no sense to spend money on people who can not do much to help you.
If the people become the final decision-makers on laws and on the Constitution, there is no need to have high court judges making “landmark” decisions either.
This is very important; some decisions made by the high courts change society deeply. In a democracy, only the voters should make, democratically, such decisions. The elected representatives should not make them, and even less so the judges, no matter how talented and honest the judges may be.
Because high court judges have so much political power, the parties in the US and in other representative democracies, fight very hard to appoint such judges. They want the judges to reflect the political orientation of the party.
Another positive effect of direct decision-making by voters is that it makes them directly responsible for the consequences of their decisions; they can no longer blame the politicians. Voters who make actual decisions, not just elect representatives, become very responsible because they are responsible.
Restricting voters to electing representatives is bad because it lets voters off the hook. In a democracy, it must not be like that; “the voter pays, the voter decides and is responsible for his or her decisions”.
More responsible voters are more rational voters too; they are not swayed by the grandiose, “messianic” messages of politicians about “vision” and “leadership”. Politicians quickly learn such messages fall on deaf ears. Powerful voters do not need, or want, “powerful” leaders. They want politicians who listen and correctly interpret, because they have to, what the voters want.
Such power in the hands of the people has another positive effect; political parties will work cooperatively and the crazy antagonism evaporates. The parties work together because they know voters are the final decision-makers, not them. Hard, polarizing fighting, like the parties do in the US and in other representative democracies, no longer make sense.
Al these positive effects are not theoretical speculations. We know they happen because we have the actual experience of Switzerland. In Switzerland, the Swiss people, not the politicians or the judges, are the final decision-makers on laws, treaties, and on the constitution itself.
I find it interesting that Swiss politicians also appoint the judges to the Supreme Court, but it does not matter much in Switzerland; the Swiss Supreme Court does not have the power to interpret the constitutionality of laws, the people do.
The Swiss Supreme Court can not make those “landmark” decisions the US Supreme Court makes. In Switzerland, only the voters make “landmark” decisions. This is how it must be in a democracy.
In other representative democracies, polarization is not as apparent as in the United States, but it has grown. This is obvious, otherwise, the “populist” parties of the right and the left would not exist, or would be much smaller.
Whether or not you are American, if you are tired of the politicians and the judges deciding, instead of you deciding, tired of the infighting and the division, then do something: push for direct democracy.